Welcome to part two of my series of reviews of HDR software. If you want to read more about why (and how) I'll be doing these, you can read My Introductory Post. You can also read: Part one-my review of the Lightroom Enfuse Plugin.
Next on my list of HDR software reviews is NIK Software's HDR Efex Pro. HDR Efex Pro was released in October, 2010 and since then it has built a large and enthusiastic following.
Before I get into the review I want to quickly review the sample images I'll use to run through the various applications. Instead of my driveway shot (which I talked about in my intro post) I'm adding a set of shots from my parking lot at work that I took with my little Canon S95. I'm also adding a series of 7 images from RC Conception, a popular photographer/Photoshop expert that you can follow on Google +. He uploaded some RAW files (I'm using seven of the nine) from a nighttime shot of San Francisco(you can view/download them here) and asked people to process them on their own to see what they could get. I think it will be a good test of the various applications, especially in seeing how long it takes to render the image. Also, RC uses a Nikon, so this way I can't be accused of bias towards Canon :-) So, here are the two image sets I'll be using (I'll just show the San Francisco image after merging):
Set 1-The Fire Truck
Set 2-The Parking Lot
Ok, on to the HDR Efex Pro review:
HDR Efex Pro is designed to operate primarily in conjunction with Lightroom, Photoshop, Bridge or Aperture. I believe you can use it as a stand alone app but it will only work with TIFF and JPEG in that setup. Most people probably will use this as a plugin.
To open HDR Efex from Lightroom, select the images you want and then right-click and select "export". You should see something like the screenshot below:
Once you click the "export" button HDR Efex goes to work. Here's how long it took to generate the combined image:
- fire truck set w/align images checked- 42 seconds
- fire truck set w/align images unchecked- 29 seconds
- parking lot w/align checked- 28 seconds
- parking lot w/align images unchecked- 20 seconds
- San Francisco w/align checked- 1 minute 10 seconds
- San Francisco w/align unchecked- 46 seconds
- Interface Settings- this allows you to set up the default language, preview mode, background color and default zoom state when the application is opened.
- Alignment & Ghost Reduction-HDR Efex Pro can automatically align your images. As in other HDR applications, using a sturdy tripod should eliminate the need for alignment. Ghost reduction is used to remove the artifacts of movement as you are shooting your bracketed images. Things like people, animals, and the effects of wind can all create "ghosts" in the image. HDR Efex Pro offers a couple different methods of removing ghosting, and the effectiveness of each will probably depend on the situation. All the methods are automatic, however, and don't allow for any type of selective ghost removal.
- Software Update Settings- This determines the interval that HDR Efex Pro checks for any product updates
- Image Output Settings- You can choose to save the completed file as either JPG or TIFF. I choose 16 bit TIFF for the most flexibility in any additional post processing
- Stacking- You can choose to automatically re-import the image into Lightroom as well as add the image to the existing image stack, if you have one
Let’s see how the images turned out. In all cases I’ll be comparing the “properly exposed” image (shown 1st-the one without any exposure compensation) to the initial output (default) image from the software.
Analysis: The default setting in HDR Efex Pro did a good job of bringing out the hidden detail in the image. The roof of the shed really came to life (especially in the metal), as did the interior of the engine compartment. The undercarriage of the truck is also more detailed. Overall, the result is fairly natural.
Analysis: The 1st thing I noticed in comparing the "after" image is the detail in the clouds and sky compared to the base image. Color saturation is nice and nothing seems blown out or under-exposed.
Analysis: Once again, the "default" setting on HDR Efex Pro did a good job. I like how the detail in the rooftops came out. The sky-glow is evident as well. The image seems a little too "light" to me so I might reduce that a bit.
HDR Efex Pro is a powerful and easy to use piece of software. There are an almost unlimited amount of possibilities but the design and layout of the software allows the user to get good results without having to learn how every button and slider works. In the short amount of time that I have used it, I have really enjoyed it. Producing a natural looking HDR image is very easy to do. If you want to go over the top and generate a more artistic/grungy/surreal interpretation, you can play to your heart's content. Here's a quick alternative image I created by using one of the "Artistic" presets. It took me all of 10 seconds to produce:
As you can see, the image has a definite "Grunge" look to it. The details are exaggerated and the saturation is increased. For the subject, I could see myself using this type of image, even though it isn't a "realistic" representation.
The positives of HDR Efex Pro:
- Smooth integration with Lightroom.
- Fast processing of images, no waiting required!
- Ability to selectively edit the image-a nice bonus to reduce additional editing
- Logical control layout with large number of useful presets.
- No manual removal of "ghosting" artifacts.